Day one and a half of the Wheels of Justice Tour… These will just be a few fragments as I only just arrived in Manhattan, Kansas yesterday, but we have started speaking. It’s very interesting to be on the other side of this tour–not just hosting them, but being on the bus and being taken in by strangers in a strange town and being welcomed.
My trip started off with something rather startling for me. I was waiting to board my plane in the Boise airport and all of a sudden I realized that the man sitting across from me had chains around his ankles and wrists, which he struggled with as he tried to read a newspaper. Apparently it is not uncommon for prisoners to fly on passenger airplanes, but in all my flying this is not something I’ve ever witnessed. I found it extremely upsetting to see this man paraded about in such a dehumanized fashion. But no one seemed to take notice or seem disturbed by it. I heard later that they often will take prisoners off surrounded by various law enforcement officials fully armed and ready to shoot. I’m not sure if this happened as I was off of the plane already. But I suspect that they moved my seat to the front of the plane (as they did with three others) because they didn’t want us to sit on the back of the plane with this man. This man who is put on display as a criminal, though I suspect that it is American society that is the criminal that put him in this position in the first place.
I arrived to the home of the family hosting us in Manhattan, Kansas after a brief lay over in Denver (thank God for airports with restaurants/bars that allow you to smoke!). The family consists of a woman who teaches in a Catholic high school and her husband who is a professor at a Baptist university here (where we’ll be speaking on Tuesday). They are really active and extremely hospitable (I almost feel like I’m back in Palestine or Lebanon…but alas ma fi kibbe 😦 ). I got to spend some time meeting the new Iraq speaker Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence who is amazing. She has worked so long on this issue and is so devoted in every way. She has spent time in jail, helped Iraqi refugees, and taken something like 27 trips to Iraq to help since the time of the sanctions. She has a recent article on Truthout.org and she is really inspirational.
Our first gig together was on a radio show this afternoon in Missouri on a show called “Every Woman” on KKFI community radio. It was a bit odd as it was the first time I had an interview with someone who didn’t do a bit of research about the subject on which she was interviewing. This was especially unusual for me in dealing with community radio. She didn’t know I was the Palestine speaker (she thought ever fabulous Nora was still on the bus) and when I mentioned Lebanon it was literally almost as if she had never heard the word before. But it was fine, that is what I’m here for: to educate people. I think the interview went pretty well and both Kathy and I had time to get major points across, but it is so hard to compress such a complex issue into even just an hour radio interview or presentation.
Tonight we did our presentations at a house party/potluck at someone’s house (I don’t know if we were in Missouri or Kansas: another reminder that there are no historical, architectural features that distinguish one state from another in any visible way). The people there were lovely and interesting, though typical peace activists in so many respects. Wanting to do good and trying to help, but not having time to do as much as they would like because they work too much, have family responsibilities. Another affirmation about why I don’t want a family. Don’t want to get married. The ability to be free enough to speak and do the political work one needs to do is always already diminished by such commitments. Anyway, two people at this event were folks we met randomly today. The bus is parked on the suburban street in front of the people’s home where we are staying. A guy named Pablo came up to the house asking about the bus. Apparently he’s got his own bus of sorts. He has a van that he drives around town that says “Democracy Now!” the sides of it as his one-man crusade to get the news program broadcast here. Here is a picture of Pablo and his van:
Pablo came with his sweet son who had just graduated from high school and is far too hard on himself because he doesn’t yet know what he wants to do with the rest of his life. I say bravo! I wish more young people were that honest and open to figure it out rather than rushing into college (or God forbid the military) before they are aware enough to make such choices.
After we ate from array of typical American potluck dishes Kathy and I spoke. She started first with a delightful and rather performative story about what happened when she spoke in Ireland and inspired some activists to disarm a U.S. war plane, which led to their arrest, and thankfully their acquittal. I found a snipped of her speech online which I liked above, but I want to quote it here too because it’s quite amazing:
Mr. Nix told us he had recently been in a park where he’d listened to children laugh and shout as they happily chased ducks and each other around on the green grass. He thought a sound of universal happiness must be the sound of children playing.
But now his tone darkened. “Now Lebanon is burning,” he thundered. “Today, children swimming in a pool were bombed. A swimming pool is now filled with burning children. This is war.”
From the The Guardian that morning (7/18/06, p.4):
“Whatever the Israelis’ intended target, the bomb fell on a small water canal next to the Qasmia refugee camp [near Tyre, in southern Lebanon], home to about 500 Palestinians. Its victims were 11 children taking an afternoon swim in the canal. The first blast left a crater nearly four metres deep, burying many of the swimmers deep under the orange earth. Seven of the children were injured, three critically. Three others have not been found.
‘The scene was littered with small plastic sandals, several caked in blood.” Ismael, the father of one of the children, sat on the edge of the crater, his head in his hands weeping. “Children! Children!” he roared through his tears, “Children here! My son here.” He stood and looked down into the crater: “Is Hizbullah here? Only children here,” he said.'”
When he had finished his talk, Mr. Nix asked the jurors and all of us present: “What would rise you to action?
And that’s a question we all need to think about. As I write, the jury in Ireland is still deliberating. Five brave men and women in Dublin tonight wait to learn their futures. Thousands more in Lebanon and Iraq and in so many other places look towards theirs with utter dread and uncertainty – many will not have futures. The peace movement is on trial in Dublin, where a media blackout has eclipsed nearly all reporting of the trial. But it’s on trial everywhere, every time one of us makes our decision either to get more involved, or perhaps to sit back and watch a little. We are left with their bravery, with the suffering of so many, and with Mr. Nix’s final accusation: “What will rise us to action?” We are all of us on trial tonight.
Afterwards I spoke about Palestinian refugees in Jordan (who fled Iraq after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq), in Lebanon (including the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in summer 2006), and in Palestine. I went on too long, I fear, but I find it so impossible to compress and condense this subject matter. And I fear if I leave something out that so much context will be lost along the way. I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight as when I went to Drew University to speak last week I was confronted with a room full of Zionists and Hillel folks (first time this year surprisingly enough). But I found it so easy to deal with them because all they seemed to come at me with were statements like “you seem anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.” Which, on one level, yes I am both of those things, but predominantly because I am pro-human rights and pro-international law and anti-colonialism. Anyway, no such people seemed to be here tonight. Instead, there was a room full of engaged people who asked some really great questions, especially in relation to what they might read or where they might find alternative information. Of course, I plugged Nora’s Flashpoints.
One of the more interesting things I heard buzzing about the room all night, which I found a bit frightening and disturbing was this new Zionist lobbying group J Street. Some people were even stating that they have donated money to them already. Amazing how ready people are to just grasp at straws because the climate here is so dismal. But it doesn’t take much poking around on their website to figure out that this is a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing. First obvious point is that they are pro-Israel. One cannot be pro-justice for Palestinians and pro-Israel. It just doesn’t work like that. This organization stands by the two-state solution, and its description of borders and swapping land sounds extremely fishy, plus their idea of the Right of Return under UN Resolution 194 is sending everyone back to Ramallah. And on their two-state proposal I see no mention of international law or human rights. It’s just unbelievable. Really, how different is their agenda than AIPAC’s? Okay, I guess they don’t want to bomb Iran. That’s great. But with respect to justice for Palestinians? I see no evidence of this on their website or in articles I’ve read about them thus far. Very disturbing development. How easy it is to deceive.
Speaking of human rights and Israel…here’s one for the record books of the so-called “only democracy in the Middle East”:
Israel has said it will not allow a UN official appointed to investigate Israeli human rights abuses to enter the country or Palestinian territories.
This was reported widely, but this bit was taken from the BBC. It seems that Richard Falk is not allowed to enter Palestine or Israel. Hmmm… do democracies block human rights workers from entering their countries? This doesn’t seem very democratic. Might we want to ask what it is that Israel wants to hide? Not that we really need to wonder if we read Ma’an News or IMEMC and see what’s really going on every single day.
So tomorrow we speak in a Methodist church in the morning in between services. Then on Tuesday we’re going to speak at William Jewell College, I believe we’re speaking to one particular class. His name is Alan Holiman and he is either deeply brainwashed or just not very clear on the subject of Palestine if I may judge from an article he wrote after joining Defense of Democracies and spending time in Israel. This organization is very scary–one of those Orwellian name twists that is exactly the opposite of what it purports to be. Holiman’s view may or may not have come from working with that organization, but wherever it came from it is frighteningly disturbing:
The Bible records that Jonathan and Saul died fighting the Philistines at Gilboa, in Galilee, now in northern Israel. Today Gilboa is home to Israel’s primary maximum security prison for convicted terrorists. It holds 850 of the approximately 5,500 terrorists in custody nationwide.
Amazing that a university professor can blur the line between stories in the Bible with modern day people and events. Moreover, he names Palestinian political prisoners, most of whom are not convicted but rather administrative detainees and definitely not terrorists. As Kathy remarked in one conversation tonight when she was sharing a story about a conversation she had with a U.S. soldier. She asked him if a foreign army invaded and occupied the U.S. would he defend the U.S. After considering it he admitted that he would risk his life to defend his country. But then why is it we are so quick to label those who engage in that same activity in Iraq and Palestine as “terrorists”?
And with that I will rest for my church gig in the morning. Tisbah ala watan to all my lajaeen friends!